This autumn quarter, Yale Greenberg World Fellow Sughra Ahmed will join the Stanford community as an associate dean for religious life. Ahmed is also the former chair of the Islamic Society of Britain and the winner of the Noor Inayat Khan memorial award for Woman of the Year in 2014 during the British Muslim Awards.
Ahmed will work with Jane Shaw, professor of religious studies and dean of religious life, the Rev. Joanne Sanders, associate dean for religious life and Rabbi Patricia Karlin-Neumann, the senior associate dean for religious life. After being the first female to be elected to the head of a UK Muslim NGO, Ahmed will now also be the first person of Muslim tradition to hold the position of associate dean full-time at Stanford.
“[Sughra Ahmed will be] an important Muslim voice at a time when Islam is important,” Shaw said. “It’s important that those of us who are not Muslim understand Islam. She will be an important voice for the Muslim community on campus.”
The unique position of associate dean originated with Rabbi Karlin-Neumann, who was the first clergy member to be appointed at Stanford who was not of Christian faith in 1996. The name of the position changed to associate dean upon her appointment along with the obligation for church affiliation.
“When I was hired, our titles changed because having the rabbi be the associate dean of the memorial church was a little odd,” Karlin-Neumann said. “So our department changed to the Office for Religious Life, and we became associate deans for religious life.”
In contrast with chaplains, who serve specific religious communities, associate deans give guidance to people of all or no religious backgrounds. This includes focusing on creating and facilitating conversations between different religions and providing spiritual guidance to everyone regardless of their religion.
“Most places have Muslim chaplains and their primary responsibility is to address the needs of Muslim students,” Neumann said. “Being an associate dean [has] a much broader purview.”
To find candidates for the position, the Office of Religious Life created a search committee consisting of the deans, associate vice provost, dean of career education and vice provost for student affairs Dr. Farouk Dey, associate dean and director of the Markaz Anita Husen, and student representative Zeshan Hussain ’17.
“I think [Ahmed] will be wearing that hat of representing the needs and issues that affect Muslims students,” Dey said, “And at the same time, she will contribute to the spiritual and emotional growth of all students.”
Hussain, formerly president and later a director of the MSU, was chosen by other students in the Muslim community to be their representative on the search committee. For him, the opportunity of having a Muslim dean for future Stanford students was very important.
“This is something that of course meant a lot to me,” Hussain said. “Entering Stanford, there were a lot of problems that I faced where I thought with some mentorship and spiritual guidance, I could have probably met those challenges a lot easier.”
Tesay Yusuf ’18 met with Ahmed during the last piece of the selection process, when the final candidates had round-table discussions with Muslim students following a Jummah (Friday prayer) session. She hopes that Ahmed, as someone who is educated in theology, can give Muslim students like herself more answers about their faith.
Ahmed’s visibility in her leadership role on campus also gives Yusuf hope for further advocacy on the behalf of those of Muslim faith on campus.
“Muslim students will now feel like they have an advocate in the administration,” Yusuf said. “Someone specifically that understands where they’re coming from, will have a better understanding of our mission, of what our goals are, what we hope to do on campus and what we’re facing.”
Rabbi Karlin-Neumann is excited to see what the future will bring.
“Not only will we have someone that we really like but we’ll [also] have an [expansion] in staff,” she said. “We’ll have four clergy. And that’s great. And a lot of girl power.”
Contact ZaZu Lippert at zazulippert ‘at’ gmail.com.
Editor’s Note: The quote from Dr. Dey has been edited to better reflect his intentions. The Daily regrets this error.